Designing a New Home: Save Construction Costs by Using the System Approach to Home Design

Have you ever heard of a design described as “unrealized”? You know, that all too familiar description that fills many a volume of works by many famous, and not so famous, Architects and Designers. I would venture to say, that one of the primary, if not the primary reason, why these books are filled with unrealized designs is because someone didn’t realize there was a budget involved. Nobody point any fingers here. Everyone is to blame.Construction costs that do not include all actual costs before construction starts (these are the famous allowances that always come up and bite us in the… , well, you know where). Operating costs (called repairs and utility bills) that are not factored in ahead of time will also cause problems down the road. Mortgage and construction loan costs, fees, and other miscellaneous cost overruns will bring down a project faster than you can say, “that costs what?”. So, how do you avoid these common problems and control the budget… that is what we are actually talking about here. The answer is pretty simple, as is the application, but I think a lack of patience (or just plain laziness) is the biggest reason why follow through is sorely lacking. The short answer is you must maintain complete control of the project, from the start. This means starting with the design stage and continuing right through to the final inspection and C. of O. The explanation is called the System Approach.The System ApproachSo what is the System Approach, and why is it so important? The System Approach, used for home design, is so named because it follows the principle that the entire house is part of one giant system… made up of many other systems, made up of other smaller systems, which are made up of other individual components. In other words, everything in the house is somehow connected and thus influenced by every decision you make… kind of a Domino Effect if you will.If you compared a house to a car, you could say that a car is made up of the same type of systems, within systems, made up of individual components as well. As an example, a car is made up of many systems such as electrical, comfort, frame, power, and so on. A house has its own set of systems. A house is put together by interacting the structural, mechanical, esthetic systems and more. All of these systems depend on each other to make the overall system function properly. In the case of a car, you could have the most efficient fuel system in the world. Your car can get over 60 miles per gallon, but if the electrical system stinks, how good is the fuel system? In a house, if the HVAC system is the most energy efficient system known to man (or woman), but the shell of the house “leaks like a sieve”, what good is the HVAC system?All of the systems depend on each other because they all interact with each other. For those that truly understand this, there is an opportunity to enhance the efficiency of all the systems… including the effect on the cost effectiveness of the decisions as to which system or component you choose to use. In future articles I will elaborate and show examples of how this works. For now, it is important to understand the concept.Since everything is intertwined in the house, this means that every decision not made before you break ground will also influence all of the decisions you have made. This is one of the reasons why it is so important to make these decisions early in the design process. This also means, that even though you may make a decision to choose a more expensive option, that decision may actually be the most cost effective choice in the long run since the effect it may have on other systems could in fact drive the cost of those other systems down. This concept becomes very important when discussing some of the hybrid Energy Efficient systems now available. I have shown my clients you if you don’t build an energy efficient home you will lose money from the day you move in. There is no “payback” period like in the early days of solar design.

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